Grappling with one’s identity and sexuality is tough, but all the more when you’re growing up in the public eye. Before coming out, Zyrus attempted to take his own life three times.
After the third attempt, while on tour in Singapore with David Foster, he woke up to find his mentor by his side. Foster was worried and told him that he didn’t have to perform that evening. But Zyrus insisted and found that, despite never telling his mentor what was on his mind, he seemed to understand.
“He knew that I was having a hard time,” Zyrus has said in interviews. “I remember, just a small gesture from him, telling me, ‘You know what? For tonight, you don’t have to wear a dress.” That was the first time he was able to present himself in the way he wanted.
“Ignorantly, it never occurred to me before,” Foster says now. “We never could figure out why Jake wasn’t comfortable in dresses… It must be torture to be in the wrong body.”
“I’m still trying to survive today,” Zyrus tells me. “I think with everything that happened to me, childhood trauma and all that, sometimes it really still gets to my head.” Zyrus is in therapy but admits that years of being in the closet has made it difficult for him to open up. “[For a lot of queer people,] it becomes a part of your life to hide. Sometimes, even your feelings get dragged into the closet because they were with you all along—how you’re really feeling, your freedom, everything.”
It’s easy to forget that in a pre-Bruno Mars world, Jake Zyrus was the great Filipino hope for pop superstardom. And by transitioning and relinquishing that superhuman vocal range, he abdicated from a role he worked toward despite never fully understanding the cost.
“The beginning of my transition, I couldn’t even do falsettos, because my voice was adjusting,” Zyrus says. “I was so nervous because as a singer, when you’re hoarse or whatever, that’s your friend right there.” But as he’s grown comfortable with his new range, Zyrus has gotten his confidence back. “I get to play around with my voice again.”
He’s rediscovering dance, too. “As Charice, I used to dance—I loved doing that and for a while I got insecure because I wasn’t comfortable in my own body,” he says. “I’m trying to build back my pop side.”
“If I’m being honest, it does feel like I’m home when I’m in America,” Zyrus tells me. “It’s not perfect—I still experience shitty moments with people here—but I still feel more accepted, you know? And I guess that’s the sad part because the Philippines will always be my home.”
He pauses. “But we can’t deny that most Filipinos just tolerate, you know what I’m saying? Tolerate rather than accept.”
“I don’t want to sound ungrateful and compare, because there is progress too,” he continues. “But we have to open our eyes. There’s still so much discrimination… Sometimes, it really makes you think about how we’re moving forward but at the same time, we’re not really moving.”